Ann Bradstreet: Conflict Between Self and God Assignment

Ann Bradstreet: Conflict Between Self and God Assignment Words: 1158

Colonial American poet Anne Bradstreet’s work has persevered as a literary representation of Puritanism and early America. Bradstreet wrote about God, about the new world, about her family, and domestic life. At first glance her poetry might seem purely Puritanical in form and in subject. However, when examined more deeply, Bradstreet’s poetry shows to be different and more complex, but showing signs of her religious doubts, her expression of personal emotions and thoughts, and her artistry.

Her poems are subtly but notably different from traditional Puritan poetry in that she did not write to preach or teach, as most all Puritan writers were instructed to, but she instead expresses herself through her writing. She also has a vivid appreciation for passion and for the role of a strong woman in society. The society Bradstreet lived in was overtly male-dominated, where the limitations on her life were not only of the beliefs and standards of religion, but also of her gender. Women were to be confined to the home, and the experiences of women were considered trivial in comparison with men’s.

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However, Bradstreet’s poems unconventionally pronounce that she valued herself as a woman, and valued the domestic experiences of being a woman. Bradstreet’s poems highlight the conflict in her experiences throughout her life to maintain her Puritanical beliefs and background, while at the same time divulge her appreciation for the mortal world. Religion was a dominant theme in Bradstreet’s work, as it was for most Puritan writers in her time. Anne Bradstreet lived and wrote in a time with strict laws and social norms governing what human activities and behaviors were acceptable, both socially in public and morally in private.

Aside from a literal belief in the Bible, Puritans also believed that religion should permeate every aspect of life. The purpose of life was to do God’s will, and everything else was subordinate to that doctrine. Therefore poetry, like all other manifestations of intellectual life in the 17th Century, was dominated by religion. Bradstreet was not a heretic, in that she did not dissent from these accepted beliefs and religious doctrine, but there are slight hints throughout her poetry that she is questioning God and religion.

Bradstreet’s poems reveal she could not entirely accept the orthodox of Puritanism. The last stanza of her poem, “In Memory of My Dear Grandchild Elizabeth…” hints at this: By nature Trees do rot when they are grown, And Plumbs and Apples thoroughly ripe do fall… And time brings down what is both strong and tall, But plants new set to be eradicate, And buds new blown, to have so short a date, Is by his hand alone that guides nature and fate. (Heath, 432) In this stanza, Bradstreet struggles to accept God’s will, while at the same time coming to terms with her own grief and loss.

The poem juxtaposes the falling of ripend fruit falling from a tree, representing an adult growing into old age before death, with fresh young flowers being swept away before their time, representing the child who was taken from the earth too soon. The imagery of young plants eradicated early and flower buds blown away by the wind is very emotional, and conveys sadness she feels and the tragedy of losing a young child. However, with the last line of the poem she seems to retract that sentiment by reverting back to God’s wisdom..

She refers to the hand of God that “guides nature and fate,” resolving that the death of her grandchild is a part of His greater plan. The last line is distinctly different in that it delves into the religious realm of God, whereas the rest of the poem is in the realm of this world. It is as if Bradstreet realizes she is dangerously close to questioning God’s plan in her writing. To write critically of God’s decrees could be considered heretical, so she pulls back her own feelings and self-expression and refers again to the goodness and wisdom of God.

This is a clear example of the duality in her poems between the didactic nature of Puritan writing, and her own desire to express her true feelings. A similar process occurs in “Verses Upon The Burning of Our House,” one of her poems expressing domestic affections. Bradstreet was very devoted to her home and her children, and therefore the burning of her home was a huge loss. She struggles to reconcile her appreciation for her lost items with her love and appreciation for God. While Bradstreet expresses the loss in the poem, she does not allow herself to wallow in self-pity.

Instead, Bradstreet uses the feelings of personal loss to reconcile it with her belief in the all-knowingness of God’s will. Bradstreet even states that the home is God’s home. Line 21 of the poem tells of the lovely objects she has lost and the memories they conjure up. When by the ruins oft I past My sorrowing eyes aside did cast, And here and there the places spy Where oft I sat and long did lie. Here stood that trunk, and there that chest, There lay that store I counted best. My pleasant things in ashes lie, And them behold no more shall I. Heath 33) It is clear that she very much valued and enjoyed these things. In line 40, the tone of the poem changes as Bradstreet accepts the destruction of her things as the will of God, calling him “that mighty Architect”, and prounouncing that her home is ultimately God’s home by writing “It’s purchased and paid for too, By Him who hath enough to do. ” (Heath 434) The poem finishes: Yet by His gift is made thine own, There’s wealth enough, I need no more, Farewell my pelf, farewell my store. The world no longer let me love,

My hope and treasure lies above (Heath 434) Bradstreet acknowledges that earthly objects are expressions of vanity, that her wealth on earth had no significant meaning, and that real wealth lies with God. At first glance, the poem can be interpreted as a didactic poem; what the poet should feel, she does feel. However, upon further investigation, the poem expresses Bradstreet’s conflict between the pleasure of earthly things and the piety of trusting in God’s will. Bradstreet struggles between her own intellectual religiousness, and genuine emotional feeling.

Anne Bradstreet’s poetry shows that she was a dynamic woman, struggling to find a balance between religion and earthly life in a time and a place with rigid rules and expectations, especially for a woman. Her inclusion of feelings and emotions of her private life and opinions, along with her accounts of religious life, are one of the reasons her work has survived for over 200 years. She subtly shows her rebellious, inquiring spirit and her need for self-expression while carefully walking the line of social and religious acceptability.

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Ann Bradstreet: Conflict Between Self and God Assignment. (2019, May 04). Retrieved December 6, 2021, from